This Day in History (14-Feb-1876) – Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray Apply for Patents on the Telephone

More than three decades after the idea of a telephone was first considered by Innocenzo Manzetti, two Americans rushed to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) on February 14, 1876 to claim credit for the world-changing invention. On this day, Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone patent application entitled “Improvement in Telegraphy” was filed at the USPTO by Bell’s attorney Marcellus Bailey; Elisha Gray’s attorney filed a caveat for a telephone just a few hours later entitled “Transmitting Vocal Sounds Telegraphically”. A patent caveat was a type of preliminary application for a patent that gave an inventor an additional ninety days grace to file a regular patent application. The caveat would prevent anyone else that filed an application on the same or similar invention from having their application processed for ninety days, while the caveat holder was given an opportunity to file a full patent application first.

Alexander Graham Bell was the fifth entry of that day, while Elisha Gray was 39th. On the basis of its earlier filing time — a mere few hours — and on the subtle distinctions between a caveat and an actual patent application, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Alexander Bell, not Elisha Gray, the patent for the telephone. In March 1877, Bell wrote to Gray that he had knowledge of the competing design. Filings at the USPTO were deemed confidential until testing was complete, meaning Bell must have secured his knowledge illegally. In 1878, lengthy patent litigation involving the Bell Telephone Company against Western Union Telegraph Company and Elisha Gray began. Year later, Bell said during a court proceeding he talked “in a general way” with a patent examiner about Gray’s design, which allowed him to learn it “had something to do with the vibration of a wire in water.”

Elisha Gray, though missed telephone patent, was granted over seventy patents for his inventions, including many important innovations in electricity. In 1872, Gray founded the Western Electric Manufacturing Company, the great-grandparent of todays Lucent Technologies.



This Day in History (3-Dec-1992) – Sema Group engineer Neil Papworth sends the world’s first SMS message from a computer to phone

The bespectacled Mr. Papworth was a 22-year-old engineer on the job, when he was assigned to do something novel: Send a text message. And so Mr. Papworth, then an employee at a software company in England, typed out the words “Merry Christmas.” that would launch a trillion thumbs. On Dec. 3, 1992, Mr. Papworth was seated before a computer terminal in a machinery room for the Sema company in Newbury, west of London, about to test a new messaging system for the Vodafone network. Vodafone was having a Christmas party in a separate building, and Mr. Papworth, surrounded by colleagues, got down to work. He typed out the 14-character yuletide greeting to a company official at the party and hit “send.”

“I was a little bit nervous. I just wanted everything to work,” Mr. Papworth recalls. Word came back from the Christmas party: The text had landed. Mr. Papworth, said no one realized its potential right away. “Back then, it was just intended to be used like an executive pager, to get a hold of people on the road,” he said. “No one knew it would evolve into such a monster.” It would take another year before phone-to-phone texting began, and since then, texting has exploded.

Text messaging is used as a political and fundraising tool; relief agencies collected funds through text donations after the Haiti earthquake and the Japan tsunami. Texting has empowered activists and grassroots movements and helped mobilize street protests around the globe. Yet for all its power, or maybe because of it, text messaging also has unintended consequences. U.S. congressmen have resigned for sending sexually explicit texts to under-aged pages. British Prime Minister David Cameron was in hot water for embarrassing text messages sent to former newspaper executive Rebekah Brooks, a central figure in Britain’s telephone-hacking scandal. (Equally embarrassing, Mr. Cameron sometimes signed his text messages “LOL” believing it meant “lots of love;” in fact, it is common text shorthand for “laugh out loud.”) In one study of 269 U.S. college students, 91 per cent said they texted during class.


This Day in History (14-Nov-1967) – Theodore Maiman, an American physicist, receives a patent for the first laser

Theodore Harold Maiman’s knowledge of electronics and electricity, which he acquired in his father’s laboratory at the age of 12, was more than sufficient to repair everything. At 17, he passed the examination for a first class commercial radio–telephone licence as the youngest person in USA to hold it. He completed PhD in Physics from Stanford University.

In January 1956, Maiman started work at Hughes Atomic Physics Department (Culver City , California), where he headed the ruby maser (microwave amplification) project for the US Army Signal Corps. He dramatically improved the performance and design of the maser (reducing its weight from the original 5,000 lbs to 25 lbs) and delivered it on time. He further refined the maser design, so that the final version worked with liquid nitrogen cooling (previous versions required lower temperatures and worked with liquid helium), and weighed only 4 pounds. He completed the maser project in the summer of 1959 and in August he was finally able to divert his attention to the laser concept, despite of lack of support from Hughes. The “race” to build the laser was in full speed.

Thanks to his independent attitude, he won the “race”. In May 1960, he demonstrated the laser in action, from a ruby crystal in his laboratory at Hughes in Malibu, where the company had recently moved. It is important to note that Hughes’ total expenditures in the period of laser development amounted to about $50,000, while other research groups spent millions of dollars in their unsuccessful struggles to obtain the coherent light. He sent a short version of his paper to the British journal “Nature”. Consequently, the first scientific report about the first laser appeared on August 6, 1960.

In 1962, Maiman founded Korad Corporation to develop and manufacture a line of high-powered laser equipment. Korad became the market leader in its field. He also co-founded Laser Video, Inc., where he developed unique large-screen, laser driven color video displays. He is the author of the basic patent on the ruby laser (the world’s first laser), and has authored patents on masers, lasers, laser displays, optical scanning, and modulation.



This Day in History (25-Oct-1906) – US inventor Lee de Forest patents “Audion”, a 3-diode amplification valve which proved a pioneering development in radio & broadcasting

Lee De Forest invented the audion, a vacuum tube device that could take a weak electrical signal and amplify it into a larger one. The audion helped AT&T set up coast-to-coast phone service, and it was also used in everything from radios to televisions to the first computers.  The audion, or triode, at the heart of the vacuum tube is what the transistor was built to replace after 40 years.

De Forest got his Ph.D. in Physics from Yale in 1896.  He began tinkering and inventing things even in high school, often trying to build things that he could sell for money. By the time he died he had over 300 patents, but few of them ever met with much success. In fact, De Forest seems almost to have had a nose for failure.  He was regularly involved in patent lawsuits (indeed, he spent his fortune on legal bills). He went through four marriages, had a number of failed companies, was defrauded by his business partners, and was even once indicted (but later acquitted) for mail fraud.

With the audion, however, De Forest had a solid success. De Forest has been labeled “father of radio” and the “grandfather of television”, since the audion helped start the explosion of electronics earlier this century.  De Forest invented the device in 1906, by inserting a grid into the center of a vacuum tube. Applying voltage to the grid controlled the amount of a second current flowing across the tube.  In 1913, AT&T installed audions to boost voice signals as they crossed the US continent. Soon the audion was being used in radios as well.

In 1921, De Forest invented a way of recording sound on movies. He started a company, the De Forest Phonofilm Corporation, but he couldn’t convince the film industry to try using sound.  Paradoxically, within a few years’ time, the motion-picture industry converted to talking pictures by using a sound-on-film process similar to de Forest’s.


This Day in History (10-May-1901) – Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose, in the hall of the Royal Society, London, proved that “plants and animal have similar touch sense”

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose is one of the most prominent first Indian scientists who proved by experimentation that both animals and plants share much in common. He demonstrated that plants are also sensitive to heat, cold, light, noise and various other external stimuli. Bose contrived a very sophisticated instrument called Crescograph which could record and observe the minute responses because of external stimulants. It was capable of magnifying the motion of plant tissues to about 10,000 times of their actual size, which found many similarities between plants and other living organisms. Using the Crescograph, he further researched the response of the plants to fertilizers, light rays and wireless waves.

The central hall of the Royal Society in London was jam-packed with famous scientists on May 10, 1901. Everyone seemed to be curious to know how Bose’s experiment will demonstrate that plants have feelings like other living beings and humans. Bose chose a plant whose mots were cautiously dipped up to its stem in a vessel holding the bromide solution. The salts of hydrobromic acid are considered a poison. He plugged in the instrument with the plant and viewed the lighted spot on a screen showing the movements of the plant, as its pulse beat, and the spot began to and fro movement similar to a pendulum. Within minutes, the spot vibrated in a violent manner and finally came to an abrupt stop. The whole thing was almost like a poisoned rat fighting against death. The plant had died due to the exposure to the poisonous bromide solution. The event was greeted with much appreciation,

Sir J. C. Bose also invented the Mercury Coherer (together with the telephone receiver) used by Guglielmo Marconi to receive the radio signal in his first transatlantic radio communication over a distance of 2000 miles. Guglielmo Marconi was celebrated worldwide for this achievement, but the fact that the receiver was invented by Bose was totally concealed.



This Day in History (10-Mar-1876) – 1st telephone call made (Alexander Graham Bell to Thomas Watson)

Alexander Graham Bell was the son and grandson of authorities in elocution and the correction of speech. Educated to pursue a career in the same specialty, his knowledge of the nature of sound led him not only to teach the deaf, but also to invent the telephone.  Alexander Graham Bell’s success with the telephone came as a direct result of his attempts to improve the telegraph. When Bell began experimenting with electrical signals, the telegraph had been an established means of communication for some 30 years. Although a highly successful system, the telegraph, with its dot-and-dash Morse code, was basically limited to receiving and sending one message at a time. Bell’s extensive knowledge of the nature of sound and his understanding of music enabled him to conjecture the possibility of transmitting multiple messages over the same wire at the same time. He and Thomas Watson, a young electrician whose services he had enlisted, were also exploring an idea that had occurred to him in 1874 – that of developing a device that would transmit speech electrically.

By June 1875 the goal of creating a device that would transmit speech electrically was about to be realized. They had proven that different tones would vary the strength of an electric current in a wire. To achieve success they therefore needed only to build a working transmitter with a membrane capable of varying electronic currents and a receiver that would reproduce these variations in audible frequencies. On June 2, 1875, Alexander Graham Bell while experimenting with his technique called “harmonic telegraph” discovered he could hear sound over a wire. The sound was that of a twanging clock spring.

Bell’s greatest success was achieved on March 10, 1876, marked not only the birth of the telephone but the death of the multiple telegraph as well. The communications potential contained in his demonstration of being able to “talk with electricity” far outweighed anything that simply increasing the capability of a dot-and-dash system could imply. Alexander Graham Bell’s notebook entry of 10 March 1876 describes his successful experiment with the telephone. Speaking through the instrument to his assistant, Thomas A. Watson, in the next room, Bell utters these famous first words, “Mr. Watson — come here — I want to see you.”